The old town of Batu Pahat

Thailand April 02, 2014 00:00


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Shops along the street were built before the World War II. Although most drapery owners were Chinese from China, it is strange that the exposed walls of the ancient shops were carved with Jawi script.

His photography works were hung on the walls of Chop Tong Ah Kopitiam, a traditional coffee shop in Jalan Engan, Batu Pahat. Tan Yin Yoo had taken photos for 53 years and he is still enraptured when he talked about photography.
Tan is quite prominent in Batu Pahat. In the 1960s, he bought a Rolleiflex120mm camera at RM500, which was actually enough to buy one acre of plantation in that era.
"If I knew how to make land investment at that time, I should have earned hundreds of thousands ringgit by now. Unfortunately, I invested wrongly as antique cameras are worthless." However, if given a chance to choose again, he said that he would still choose the Rolleiflex camera.
Although he loves taking photos, he never thought of making photography a career. He just enjoys snapping photos of the town. He joked, "I have never left Batu Pahat even after taking photos for so many years."
"I was born in the first month of the Lunar calendar and it was in the Year of the Snake. Therefore, I am a snake in hibernation," he said. His wife said that he never left Batu Pahat even to visit their children who have been living in Kuala Lumpur for over 20 years.
His wife is from a Teochew family operating a grocery shop located opposite his coffee shop and they started their innocent affection for each other in childhood. They have married for 40 years.
He started to take photos in 1959 and explored the skills since the era of black and while film, until the 1990s. He was active in the International Salon of Photography and had over 400 photographs selected for various international film festivals and competitions.
Tan also showed some of his collections, including an antique flash with bulb. He said that the flashbulb cost 25 sen, same as the price of a bowl of laksa at that time, and could only be used once. Another big flashbulb costing RM2 was used to take a group photo.
His first camera was stolen and replaced by a YashicaD. His last film camera was a Nikon F$S. He bought a Nikon D90 in the digital camera era but he could not get used to the new technology. Although he kept the old camera, he can no longer use them due to the gradual disappearance of film.
The traditional coffee shop was operated by Chinese but food was prepared by Malays and most diners were also Malays.
It was opened on March 20, 1932 and had been passed down to the third generation. Since it was located at a low terrain, when it rained during rising tides, the coffee shop would be flooded by about six inches. However, diners had got used to it and they would continue eating with their feet in the water.
Sadly, Tan decided to stop the operation of the coffee shop in 2013 due to his old age that did not allow him to wake up at 4am everyday to get prepared for the coffee shop's operation.
Jalan Penggaram, adjacent to Jalan Engan, was called the "Drapery Street" as almost all shops here were draperies in the early days. It is also called the ""Hakka Street" since most drapery owners were Hakka.
Liu Ying Hua, owner of Cap Sin Fat, a shop selling foreign goods, is also a Hakka. The shop is able to survive as his child who was working in Kuala Lumpur is willing to return and inherit the family business.
Shops along the street were built before the World War II. Although most drapery owners were Chinese from China, it is strange that the exposed walls of the ancient shops were carved with Jawi script.
The "Draper Street" had its heyday in the 1970s, but the draperies were later replaced by gold and jewelry shops.
In the past, Liu also supplied goods to shops in neighbouring villages. However, after traditional foreign goods and grocery stores were replaced by department stores, they were forced to sell other products, such as school bags, in addition to daily necessities.
Although the shop is packed with goods, Liu and his wife are still able to remember where they keep the goods and can easily get whatever their customers request.